18 Things I Wish Someone Would’ve Told Me When I Was 18

A friend of mine is a high school teacher who believes our education system fails to provide students with “real world” knowledge and does not fully prepare students to take on many of life’s challenges. “With the amount of debt being accumulated by young people, on top of high unemployment rates, today’s teenagers are about to embark on scarier road than most of us experienced,” he says.

In an effort to help combat that phenomenon he’s asking people he views as successful to share some “what they wish they would’ve known moments” to share with his class, the type of lesson they wouldn’t learn from a text book. Those of you that frequent this blog know how passionate I am about disrupting education. Below is my entry.


1.) The college you attend doesn’t matter as much as you think it does, UNLESS it’s truly a top 10 program at a top 10 university (see: entrepreneurship at Babson). When you get in the working world you’ll realize people are from all over and the work that you do speaks significantly louder than a certificate on your wall.

2.) Be an engineer. Seriously, if you have the capacity for it, be an engineer. You’ll have job security and solid wages forever.

3.) Don’t let fear hold you back. Learn to quiet your lizard brain and always ask yourself, what’s the worst that could happen? Don’t be careful, don’t move slowly and don’t compromise. Taking risks will separate you from the people who are scared to, who are comfortable with the status quo. Those people toil away in their cube their entire careers.

4.) Learn personal finance. It amazes me how terrible people are with money. Avoid credit card debt at all costs. Learn to automate your finances so that you don’t have to think about them and everything is systemized to work for you. If 10% of every paycheck goes directly to a Roth IRA BEFORE it hits your bank account you won’t even miss it.

5.) DO NOT take out student loans unless you absolutely have to (see number #1).

6.) Work for free. Charlie Hoehn’s Recession Proof Graduate is the best primer you’ll read on the subject. Acquiring unique and significant experiences from/with intelligent people in your field will really separate you from your peers.

7.) Unleash your inner entrepreneur – the ability to make money on the side when you’re in a pinch… that’s real job security. Companies are not as loyal as they were “back in the day.” If you get laid off, side project money can sustain you until you get back on you feet.

8.) Chase the dollars, not passion. This will be counter intuitive to the advice you normally hear, but very, very few of you truly know what you want to do when you’re leaving college, much less high school. Passion isn’t something you find, it’s something you cultivate over time. Most people who are intensely passionate about their job worked hard to attain it — and only after acquiring a breadth of experience and really getting to know themselves. Also, to be clear money doesn’t buy happiness and it isn’t everything, but it can offer freedom and flexibility to make your life easier.

Caveat: If you truly have no doubt the path you want to take, and it doesn’t adversely affect the livelihood of you and/or your family, then by all means pursue your dream career with reckless abandon. Sometimes having your back against the wall compels you to succeed.

9.) Stop being so entitled. We got a trophy for participating and now we think we deserve $60,000 and a corner office fresh out of college. The truth is you don’t and nobody owes you anything. Put your head down, start grinding and prove yourself.

10.) Never stop learning. Ever. Read books, read blogs, watch TED talks, but don’t ever stop learning. Americans watch insane amounts of television every evening. I think Breaking Bad is phenomenal, but build in a couple of hours a week to learn something new. It’s a great way to get ahead.

11.) Find a way to separate yourself from your peers. Whether it’s a niche you’re passionate about or just something you have an aptitude for, find a way to be a little different. I went to graduate school for marketing and we mostly learned traditional marketing techniques. I separated myself from my fellow students by teaching myself digital marketing, including deep immersion into social media. Even now, my expertise in digital has enabled move through the ranks and take on consulting projects for additional income.

12.) To reiterate what Kati Bass said: Always, always do what you say you’re going to do. Part of this is managing expectations, but beyond that it’s about building trust that will serve you well in the workplace. Your integrity is your most valuable asset — treat it as such.

13.) Be likeable. Here’s one thing I can’t stress enough. People hire people they like and would want to work with. Your managers and can teach you what they want you to know, but they can’t teach you to be an awesome person. If the qualifications are even marginally close, the person they like the most gets hired every time.

14.) No matter how awesome a potential significant other is on paper (i.e. he’s tall, she’s smart, his family is great, she’s wealthy), you can’t make it work unless there’s excellent chemistry. And IF there is excellent chemistry, those other things matter a lot less than you think they will.

15.) Stop eating so much crap. You’ll probably have lots of boyfriends/girlfriends, tons of different jobs and live in countless places, but you only have one body. Take care of it by eating healthy and carving out some time to work out. A lot of young people can eat/drink whatever they want, but I promise you it will catch up to you. A poor diet and a lack of sleep adversely affect your entire life.

16.) Experiences are worth more than gadgets. I realize our phones are an extension of us now, but aside from that, you’re going to remember the spring break trip you took with your friends way more than your PS3. Spend your money on experiences like concerts, traveling, etc. Take lots of pictures. Simplify your life; you don’t need more stuff.

17.) Ask for help. Many people have too much pride to ask for help, but very few people “got to the top” alone. Try to provide value to the other person first, but don’t hesitate to ask for help. There are countless people out there who can help you get what you need or where you want to go if you’re willing to ask.

18.) It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it. You’ve probably heard this before, but there are few statements as true and as important to your happiness as this one. I’ll leave you with this from one my favorite books, “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius: “‘It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’ No, you should rather say: ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearful of the future.’”


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  • jessicamalnik

    Great post, Ryan. I couldn’t agree more with many of these tips, especially #3, #4, and #13. And, I would also add to this, learn how to manage others’ expectations, including how to manage up.